By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
Father Paul Carmen takes time to teach while he serves By Eileen Jevis
CAMILLUS — “Cupertino at Night” is the title of the theology classes taught two Thursday evenings each month at St. Joseph’s Church. The theology course is named after St. Joseph of Cupertino, who was a slow learner and lived a life of simplicity and faith. He is known as the flying saint because he often levitated while praying. He was also known as the patron of students.
Father Paul Carmen, who teaches the course, holds a master’s degree in theology from the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. He also studied in Rome for five years where he earned degrees in theology and canon law. Father Carmen is pleased with the turnout at his classes, which draw over 30 adults at each meeting. “I started a theology class at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Endicott,” said Father Carmen. “That parish was mostly Italian, thus the name, Cupertino at Night.” Father Carmen said that there was a lot of interest in the theology class at St. Anthony’s, which is why he decided to offer it at St. Joseph’s.
“As Catholics, most of our education stops after religious education,” said Father Carmen. “That’s about seventh grade. Most adults are very educated and I wanted to offer a college-level theology 101 course. I think people are hungry to deepen their own knowledge and faith.” The participants in the class said much the same thing. Kathleen Nolan has been a parishioner at St. Joseph’s since 1972. After reading about the class in the parish bulletin, she decided to attend. “It seemed like something I would be interested in,” said Nolan. “I’ve learned a lot more than I ever knew before even though I had a Catholic education.” Nolan said she enjoys the fact that each concept is condensed into one evening of learning.
Father Carmen opened a recent class with prayer and introduced the week’s topic — creation. “As a group, our aim is to deepen our Catholic faith and spirituality by deepening our intellectual understanding of the mysteries of our faith,” said Father Carmen. “Here at Cupertino, we are firm believers that the truth is dialectic. And by that we mean, the more we dialogue and raise questions with each other, the more we share experiences, insights and even raise objections, the more all of us will learn.”
Howard Miller, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s for 33 years, appreciates Father Carmen’s teaching style. He and his wife attend each class and have found Father Carmen’s wealth of knowledge very enlightening. “This is the first on-going, in-depth class that teaches us about faith that I’ve attended,” said Miller. “It gives us the opportunity to really explore all the different facets of our faith and how they relate to each other.” Miller said that Father Carmen is able to create a clear picture of the things he’s heard and wondered about over the years. Miller also said that Father Carmen ties religion and history together, which helps explain the faith by using historical points that act as anchors. “It’s become a lot more interesting when history and religion are tied together,” said Miller. “Father Carmen takes the foundations of our Catholic faith and explains them. The classes are very good. They stimulate a lot of thought.”
During the creation class, Father Carmen followed the thoughts of St. Thomas Aquinas and his belief in three distinct levels of creation: matter, matter plus soul and the creative spirit. “St. Thomas Aquinas says that there are things created out of both matter and spirit and this is where the human category fits. The human person is made up of both matter and spirit. We are composed of flesh and spirit. Human beings are a body/soul composite,” said Father Carmen. This theory opened up a round of discussion about evolution verses creation. “Were our first parents Adam and Eve or were they monkeys and orangutans?” asked Father Carmen. “Whatever we may personally believe, I will say that the concept of pure evolution appears to be a scientific impossibility.” Father Carmen went on to explain his statements of pure evolution and questioned whether God could use the evolutionary process of the body and then at some given moment, infuse the soul into the body, thus creating the human person.
In tying together the levels of existence, Father Carmen introduced the topic of angels and their role in the Catholic faith. This topic generated many questions and considerable dialogue. “There are a few things that the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say on the topic of angelology,” Father Carmen explained. “The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that sacred Scripture usually calls ‘angels’ is a truth of faith. The Catechism also says, ‘With their whole beings, the angels are servants and messengers of God.’ And lastly, ‘As purely spiritual creatures, angels have intelligence and will. They are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures.’”
Those in attendance agreed that Father Carmen’s teaching methods were admirable. “He has a very easy way,” said Miller. “He’s comfortable and self-confident and his interpersonal skills with the parishioners are terrific.” “I really enjoy the classes and look forward to going again,” said Nolan. “Father Carmen is a great teacher. He makes everyone feel comfortable and encourages us to ask questions.” Nolan said the topic of angels was particularly interesting to her because she feels that there is not a lot of emphasis on angels in the Catholic religion anymore. “It was interesting to hear him talk about them and fill us in,” she said. “These classes are something I don’t want to miss.”